Armed and on the Frontlines: Inside Zimbabwe's All-Female Anti-Poaching Army

'Animals can’t speak, but I can stand up to save their lives.'

8/14/2020 2:15:00 PM

Armed and on the Frontlines: Inside Zimbabwe's All-Female Anti-Poaching Army

'Animals can’t speak, but I can stand up to save their lives.'

Chigumbura:Poachers use guns, snares, and even poison. Some use cyanide that kills a thousand animals in a few minutes. Many poachers here in Zimbabwe are driven by poverty, hunger, and the search for survival. One day we arrested a poacher who was not complying. He was very resistant. It was difficult for us to guess what he was thinking about us because he had a very sharp spear and a big knife.

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Hoto:During patrols, it's very hard to know what the poachers will be thinking, especially when we’re tracking them. At the beginning of the lockdown in March, some elephants had succumbed to poisoning by locals. It's also difficult to assume there's no threat during patrol times, because you might encounter dangerous wildlife or even armed poachers. One day, we came across a lion just 10 meters [almost 33 feet] away. It was my first time meeting a lion that close.

"I don’t want to see any cruelty inflicted on any animal. It pierces my heart," Akashinga ranger Petronella Chigumbura tells ELLE.com.Kim ButtsWhat's your relationship like with the animals you save?Chigumbura:The way I love my kids is the same way I love wildlife, and this has helped me to create a strong bond with the animals. Akashinga ladies just live as a family with the wildlife. We’ve got a motherly, caring heart. I don’t want to see any cruelty inflicted on any animal. It pierces my heart. Because our unit is a community-based program, I once had to arrest one of my relatives. I had no option but to arrest them, because it's my top priority to save wildlife. If we don’t catch [poachers], nothing will be left for the next generation. Whenever we make an arrest, I feel that the animals are being defended and getting justice. Animals can’t speak, but I can stand up to save their lives.

Hoto:Animals were afraid of us when we first started to protect them. They only thought of being shot. Animals shouldn't suffer or feel pain for the sake of our needs and desires. They have the right to live and enjoy their life. They also have an aesthetic value, a natural beauty and artistic value that I find so lovely. When justice is served in terms of the arrests and convictions…Now the animals feel secure and we have a strong bond with them. We are like family.

Chigumbura tracking a poacher in the field.Kim ButtsWhat still needs to be done to protect vulnerable species in Zimbabwe?Chigumbura:Educating the community on how important wildlife and nature is can be a great step toward saving more animals. Supporting community members with different projects, since most poachers are driven by poverty and hunger, can help them sustain their families. Incorporating modern, technologically advanced equipment to monitor wildlife movement and a poacher's actions will also help rangers save more animals.

Hoto:Creating more vegetation projects for community members so that they can sustain their families, as well as keep them occupied by not having to waste time [hunting].Staff WriterRose is a Staff Writer at ELLE.com covering culture, news, and women's issues.

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Armed and on the Frontlines: Inside Zimbabwe's All-Female Anti-Poaching Army'Animals can’t speak, but I can stand up to save their lives.' Are transgenders allowed? I'd like to join!

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Armed and on the Frontlines: Inside Zimbabwe's All-Female Anti-Poaching Army'Animals can’t speak, but I can stand up to save their lives.' Are transgenders allowed? I'd like to join!

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